WTO backs EU in row over Russian import ban on pigs, pork

Weak pork exports are hurting French farmers. [Nick Saltmarsh/Flickr]

A World Trade Organization (WTO) panel on 19 August backed the European Union (EU) in a two-year dispute over Russia’s ban on pig and pork imports from the bloc.

Russia imposed the ban after a handful of cases of African swine fever in some EU areas in 2014, invoking sanitary and phytosanitary measures allowed under WTO rules.

EU takes Russia to WTO over pork embargo

The European Union is taking Russia to the dispute settlement body of the World Trade Organisation, in order to overturn a ban on pork exports from the bloc, escalating a trade row that has been aggravated by the crisis in Ukraine.

A panel of arbitrators found that Russia did not meet international standards for such a ban which was discriminatory, violating WTO rules.

But regardless of the WTO’s decision, the pork trade continues to be restricted by the ban Moscow imposed on most Western food imports in August 2014 after Western sanctions were launched over its role in the Ukraine crisis, the EU said in a statement.

Each side has 60 days in which to appeal the findings. EU pork exports to Russia were €1.4 billion ($1.6 billion) in 2013, a quarter of total EU pork exports at the time.

Russian food safety watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor, which imposed the ban in 2014, expects Moscow to appeal the decision, its head Sergei Dankvert told Reuters on Friday, adding that the Economy Ministry was in charge of relations with the WTO and would decide on whether to file the appeal.

The Russian Economy ministry was not available for immediate comment.

The European Union delegation to Russia said in a statement that the ruling sent a “strong signal” to Russia that a risk assessment should be based on scientific evidence.

“If no appeal is filed within that deadline, the report will be adopted and Russia will be bound to comply with the recommendation,” the EU said. The bloc said it has one of the world’s most efficient animal health and food safety systems.

Russia closed its market to EU live pigs, pork and other related products – cutting off almost 25% of all EU exports – at the end of January 2014. It based its decision on four cases of African swine fever (ASF) detected in wild boars at the Lithuanian and Polish borders with Belarus, ignoring the measures that the EU and the Member States imposed to combat the disease and to contain the spread of the virus.

Extensive bilateral discussions over the last months with Moscow have not brought any results. In June 2014 the EU took Russia to the WTO dispute settlement body.

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